GEORGE WESLEY BELLOWS (1882-1925),ALTHOUGH NOT AN OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE ASHCAN REALIST SCHOOL HE WAS THE FOREMOST REALIST TO FOLLOW IN THEIR TRADITION: AN APPRECIATION OF HIS GRITTY REALIST DEPICTIONS OF LIFE IN NEW YORK CITY AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

portrait-of-my-father

George Wesley Bellows was an important artist who depicted gritty realistic scenes. He followed in the same tradition as the Ashcan school of realists. In this post I am going to expand on his talent and brilliant exposition of Working class life in and around New York. American art begins by pointing out his connection to the Ashcan School of artists.

” Throughout his career the ashcan artist George Bellows was always attracted to the darker grittier aspects of City life”.[1]

Explaining  his most famous painting Stag at Sharkeys American art shows how Bellows has shown a famous boxing match and how Bellows represented it.

” The fighters themselves -anonymous are loosely executed with rapidly applied marks. For Bellows this Darwinian struggle for the survival of the fittest acted as an appropriate metaphor for the everyday struggle for survival among the often poverty stricken Inhabitants of New York”. [2].

Referring to the Ghost of Sergeant Kelly Bellows depicts War in all its gory details.

” During the last year of the conflict(the First world war) Bellows produced a number of works highlighting the atrocities of War. these were clearly based on Francisco de Goya’s  Disaster of war etchings”. [3]

” In the Ghost of Sergeant Kelly Bellows depicts two Soldiers wrestling each other in hand to hand combat. this close physical struggle recalls Bellows’s Boxing pictures of a decade earlier”.[4].

bellows3stag

Evening_Blue_George_Wesley_Bellows

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Pennsylvania_Station_Excavation_-_George_Wesley_Bellows_-_overall

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Pennsylvania_Station_Excavation_-_George_Wesley_Bellows_-_overall

roads_bellows

George_Bellows_-_The_Big_Dory,_1913

larger

Bellows brilliantly depicts Pennsylvania Station’s excavation showing the growth of immigrants entering the USA. The figures are obscured mostly by Bellows but it does give an idea of the smoke everywhere.

”  as the population of the City grew along with the ever rising wave of Immigration from Europe the City’s Transportation links with the rest of the Country reached breaking point and plans were put in place to build a new major Railroad terminal”. [5].

” Bellows’s work is far from heroic celebration of Technological achievement , rather he presents the excavation as a barren desolate site reminiscent  of a battleground with dark louring forms and bellowing steam dominating the diminutive  workers who appear only sporadically throughout the scene”. [6].

Bellows like Thomas Eakins before him in his 42 Kids paints Teenage children bathing in a local pool but unlike Eakins they are not totally naked. These sort of scenes were a favourite of French artists especially Gustave Courbet and Paul Cezanne.

” 42 Kids 1907 – rather it engages with and simultaneous modifies the tradition of Arcadian painting particularly works representing Nymphs and satyrs by the sea”[7].

Matthew Baigell  in his Concise History of American Painting and Sculpture  shows how Bellows wanted  to paint the raw physical side of life.

“George Bellows sought more than the sparkle , he wanted to experience the raw, the physical impact of modern life, he turned to themes of violent recreation , the masculine vigour of Labour and the turbulence of the slum life”.[8].

tumblr_npe0mqw6Za1s0u653o6_1280

the-athenaeum-the-germans-arrive-george-wesley-bellows-1468077359_org

7822312438060043

bellows-key-34

996f95c30f55c7bf95bfd7f479b071c0

larger

Baigell describes how Bellows depicts and describes the narrative in all his realist works.

” Trained to record neither the telling gesture nor the critical incident he could let his imagination range more freely as it confronted urban life”. [9].

” Even if he neglected to integrate objects with their background -a common American trait he usually indicated a broad triangular or circular infrastructure or sequence of movements that gave order to his work”.[10].

Baigell points out how Bellows began to experiment with his compositional arrangement of how the iconography of the picture should look.

” Although he did not dramatically alter his style he began to experiment with Jay Hambridges’s doctrine of dynamic symmetry which consisted of a method of compositional organisation based on arithmetical formulas”. [11].

Robert Atkins in art Spoke explains how the leader of the Ashcan School Robert Henri taught George Bellows and others.

” Two years later Henri established his own Art School where he taught the realists George Bellows and Edward Hopper and some of the first American Modernists including Stuart Davis”.[12].

tumblr_npe0mqw6Za1s0u653o6_1280

George_Bellows_-_The_Big_Dory,_1913

bellows-key-34

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Pennsylvania_Station_Excavation_-_George_Wesley_Bellows_-_overall

Ann Lee Morgan in her Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists confirms my prognosis that Bellows was the most important Realist after the Ashcan School of artists.

” The most important heir to the Ashcan tradition in American art (George Bellows). He employed vigorous sensuous brushwork in seascapes  , portraits and scenes of Urban Life”.[13].

” Although willing to take on a range of artistic challenges Bellows continues to be particularly known for his boxing scenes”. [14].

” He studied for two years at the New York school of art with Robert Henri from whom he absorbed a radical individualism as well as the belief that good painting demands a passionate involvement with life”.[15].

Morgan shows how the most important artistic influences on Bellows were Eakins, Whistler and Homer.

” Eakins , whistler and above all Winslow Homer became his personal idols while at the same time he also benefitted from the painterly examples of William Merrit Chase and John Singer Sargent”. [16].

fad7da60da5d6bdb6e3b6571091bb6de

Masses_1914_John_Sloan

front_cover_of_the_masses_l

Evening_Blue_George_Wesley_Bellows

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Pennsylvania_Station_Excavation_-_George_Wesley_Bellows_-_overall

Morgan further explains Bellows’s talent for portraiture , if you study his paintings you can see how he has cleverly drawn the figurative elements in his paintings.

” Although in 42 Kids and other paintings of the crowded city, the characters he depicts are one of the many types -sometimes stereo types -Bellows had a talent for portraiture”. [17].

” Responding to his social conscience he provided drawings for the Masses from 1913-until it ceased publication in 1917″. [18].

” Although Bellows ‘s early work showed a natural freshness , like many of the artists of the period he came intensely interested in theories of colour and composition”. [19].

This concludes my study of George Bellows . His importance as a Realist painter like John Sloan was driven by concerns about oppression , exploitation and social injustice. He was a member of the editorial Board of the Masses the magazine of the Socialist party of the United states.

FOOTNOTES

  1. AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING PG. 106
  2. DITTO.PG.106
  3. DITTO.PG.110
  4. DITTO.PG.110
  5. DITTO.PG.178
  6. DITTO.PG.178
  7. DITTO.PG.234
  8. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE MATTHEW BAIGELL.PG.201
  9. DITTO.PG.204
  10. DITTO.PG.204
  11. DITTO.PG.204
  12. ART SPOKE 1848-1944 ROBERT ATKINS. PG. 98
  13. ANN LEE MORGAN THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS.PG.37
  14. DITTO.PG.37
  15. DITTO.PG.37
  16. DITTO.PG.37
  17. DITTO.PG.37
  18. DITTO.PG.37
  19. DITTO.PG.37

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s